Virtual instruments are an every day part of the modern digital audio workstation setup and we will explain what they are and how they can be used and share some of the different types ofvirtual instruments available.
When you are using a digital audio workstation to record and produce music you can include instruments in your compositions that you are not able to record from a real instrument because it is too large for your home studio, you can't play it yourself or simply do not have access to that instrument or anybody who can play it. The way this is done is by using virtual instruments which are apps that run inside your recording software.
Virtual instruments are often distributed as VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plugins which can be installed on a computer and work with most DAW applications. These VST plugins emulate real instruments or hardware synthesizers and can often have a similar look of the original equipment as well as the sound characteristics. While VST is the most popular plugin type used by developers of virtual instruments and synths, virtual instruments are also made available in other formats including DXi (DirectX Instrument) and MAS (MOTU Audio System) formats.
When a virtual instrument plugin has been installed on the computer it becomes available within the recording software. Most virtual instruments are used by placing notes onto a MIDI track which sends the musical data to the virtual instrument. The sound is then sent out from the plugin. The way which virtual instrument plugins are used within recording software is different between each application and such an explanation is outside the scope of this article.
There are many types of virtual instruments that can be uses in your recordings. Here are a few of the most popular types.
Virtual Drums - A virtual drum plugin will allow you to have drums in your recordings by emulating a drum sounds and other percussion instruments. Many virtual drum plugins offer realistic sounding drum kits while other plugins are aimed at dance and electronic sounding kits.
Virtual Piano - A virtual piano plugin will emulate a piano sound and allow you to have a piano in your recordings. These can include vintage pianos and modern pianos. They can also include electronic piano emulators.
Virtual Synthesizers - A virtual synthesizer plugin will emulate a hardware synthesizer sound and allow you manipulate the sound. Virtual synthesizers are also created to be unique to the digital world with their own characteristics intended for the production of computer based electronic music.
Other Virtual Instruments - Almost any instrument that exists in the real world can be recorded and turned into a virtual emulator. There are a lot of them including virtual guitars, virtual bass guitars and other string instruments. Popular wind instruments have also been emulated and can be found as virtual instruments plugins to be used with popular DAW software.
Most of the the popular recording studio software come with a selection of plugins and instruments included. The industry leaders including Cakewalks Sonar and Steinberg Cubase come with some top quality instruments and synths to get you started.
When you are ready to expand your instrument library or need something specific there are websites like www.vst4free.com and www.vstwarehouse.com that have a lot of free VST instruments for download. This is a good way to start when you are on a small budget and want a lot of different instruments.
There are a lot of commercial companies making virtual instruments and some of the instruments I use include plugins from XLN Audio, Native Instruments and LennarDigital.
You can purchase them online from the links above.